Sunday, December 21, 2008

Two Days on the Manistee

The Manistee was one of Michigan's most important rivers in the logging years of the 19th Century. Its headwaters reached the vast pinelands of the northern Lower Penisula, a conduit for moving the seeming unlimited number of white pine logs to the sawmills on the shore of Lake Michigan and throughout the Midwest.
In 1948 it was an ideal river for canoeing, flowing through typical up-north country, as yet undefiled by canoe liveries. The river was a place for fly fishermen, great blue herons, and king fishers, shortly to be replaced by whooping and hollering weekend revelers.
My brother and I organized a two-day trip on the Manistee from Sharon to the US 31 bridge. Our canoe was a wood and canvas Old Town, about the same vintage as my older brother, who had an extensive canoe trip in Ontario under his belt. This was my first trip on a "real" river. After 53 years, my most vivid memory of that trip is how cold we were that night. Our equipment was totally inadequate: a GI sleeping bag, one army blanket thick. Our shelter was G.I. jungle hammocks, designed to repel rain and mosquitos in a tropical environment. About 1:00 AM we were both miseable with the cold, trying to save face by waiting for the other guy to get up and build up the fire. I don't remeber who was first to chicken out, but we stood around the fire all night, looking east for the first sign of dawn.
Hauling out the next afternoon, we did a mild imitation of French voyageurs finishing a grueling trip up the Grand Portage---this for the benefit of a carload of tourists at the roadside park. I had the fun of going for the car, which had been spotted in the Village of Fife Lake. Never a successful hitchhiker (too big and ugly) I did get a ride for about 100 yards. His drive shaft fell off when he started up, and he looked at me like it was all my fault. I didn't tell about the risk of driving a piece of junk in the middle of no place. (He may still be there). I walked the next 4 miles to the car, a '46 Chevy.
Dick didn't tell the whole story. In those days it was safe to drink river water (we thought) so  one time I am down on my hands and knees slurping  up cool Manistee water when I hear this tinkling sound. I look up and there is my brother taking a whiz just upstream of me....well you can bet he never had a chance to get a comfortable drink the rest of that trip!
The two canoe stories are from the "Woodruff Family Canoeing Album". The first picture in that album is of Mother and Dad in the Pratt family canoe on their honeymoon in June of 1921 at the Pratt cottage on Paw Paw Lake. I once speculated to Father that I might have been conceived in that canoe, but he said no....Too bad. That might have explained my intense interest in canoes. As I look at those old photos I think I can understand. They are never alone. Either my Uncle Henry or my Aunt Mary are in the canoe with them. (he did reveal where I happened). (original email date May 9, 2008)

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